Sunday at Reading was a bit strange this year. The only little kiddies I had seen the whole weekend prior to that had belonged to various goth/ punk/ hippy types who were all quite young. On Sunday however the demographic changed. At the main stage I got stopped by sensible men in their forties in sensible shoes, wearing aaran knit jumpers and about as lost and clueless as a sloane in Stockwell. Dragging their doting fathers behind them were 8 – 11 year olds in Eminem/ Papa Roach/ Linkin Park [delete as appropriate] hoodies. The dads were trying to find out how long they had to stand in the rain for and the kids were only interested in convincing daddy to take them to see Eminem. My first reaction was to stop being so polite and shout: “BOTH OF YOU GET OUT OF HERE!!! YOU’RE TOO OLD AND YOU’RE TOO YOUNG!!!” This alone could constitute another rant all of its own. But my small and drink addled brain began to wonder why; when the average audience age of big name acts like Limp Bizkit and Eminem is plummeting, that foetuses often seem to shake their booty to Hear’Say and that marketing men have given up on the 15 –24 marketing group in favour of the 6 –12 one; is it a pain to go and see a band in a small venue if you are 15 – 18 (and beyond if you look young and have to argue with the bouncers to prove that you aren’t a minor)?
“Ver Kidz” (© all music magazines – fanzines to the NME and beyond) are a myth. A figment of a music journalist’s imagination to emphasise how hip, young, swinging and sexy the “underground” is. Going to a gig in a small venue for the most part seems to be like visiting a morgue. The bands play their little hearts out and the over-twenties nurse their drinks and nod their heads; too cool to bother dancing. Whatever anybody says there is a difference between teens and adults in terms of reactions at gigs. Miss Black America’s Seymour Glass: “The older you get, the more cynical and bitter you become, and the less willing you are to enjoy yourselves in public. An audience of teens generally enjoys gigs more because they're not determined to think that everything's crap to prove some rubbish point to no-one in particular. It's particularly bad in London because London's a horrible, twisted city, most of the clubs don't allow under-18s in, all anyone cares about is making money and cynicism over-rules all other emotions. London is dying a slow, cancerous death of the soul. We should carpet-bomb the whole fucking place. Consider it euthanasia.”
The music industry most certainly isn’t underpinned by the young (lets say the 14 – 20 year olds) at grass roots level. They’re more likely to be the ones manipulated by the record companies into buying whatever is the Sound Of The Moment. But then it is fair to say that it isn’t particularly easy for small venues; generally pubs; to encourage 14 – 18 year olds to go and watch gigs. That said most venues think that they are valued customers, to quote the Barfly: “They like music too!” and at Pestellos In Bury St Edmunds the promoter feels that the role of underagers is very important: “It’s a vast energetic group of young people coming together and building a scene for each other with their own style of music and fashion.”
Currently the licensing laws state that:
- 1) Persons under 18 cannot buy a drink anywhere on licensed premises, whether in the bar or elsewhere.
- 2) The only exception are persons aged 16 and 17 who can buy beer, cider, porter or perry for consumption with a meal not served in the bar.
- 3) Persons under 18 cannot drink in a bar but those aged 5 or more can elsewhere in licensed premises.
- 4) Persons aged 5 or more can drink in a registered club, a public place (unless prohibited by bye-law) or at home.
- 5) Persons under 14 are not allowed in the bar of licensed premises during permitted hours unless a Children’s Certificate is in force.
- 6) It is an offence to give a child under 5 an alcoholic drink anywhere.
Understandably landlords are a little bit jittery about their licenses but to make matters worse the law is inconsistent. For example if there is no bar where the actual stage is then an 18 year old can buy a beer for their 17 year old mate who can drink it whilst watching the band.
Venue policies towards those who are underage understandably vary quite a bit. The most progressive venue who answered my questions is Pestellos in Bury St Edmunds. According to their promoter: “I have no problem with under 18s, to be honest most of the band members are under 18. My policy on the door is that I check every person for ID. No ID no stamp for the bar. Also what I do is have the main stage area a non-alcholic bar. I have found that some of the customers are very young ie under 14 so they have to be accompanied by an adult this is normally family related to one of the band members: they want to see their big brov or sis play.” The Barfly in Camden Town’s policy for underagers (audience and band) is: “16 with a responsible adult.” At Bugbear, the promoters for London’s Dublin Castle and the Hope and Anchor their policy is as follows: “Since both our venues (Dublin Castle, Camden, Hope & Anchor, Islington) are situated in pubs we have to implement the landlords policy on under 18's which is basically the same for both venues. Under 18's are allowed to perform but not to be a member of the audience. Unfortunately this means any one appearing to be underage (unless they have ID.) will not be admitted.” The Army and Navy in Chelmsford and the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town didn’t bother answering; neither did Bugbear when I asked them why they didn’t allow under 18s in when they were allowed to be there over 14. That said they did say that: “I would consider matinee performances, in fact I’ve discussed the possibility of running the occasional “dry bar” (ie no alcohol served) with the landlord of the Hope and Anchor to facilitate underage bands and their audience.” Halleluja because the Dublin Castle’s bouncers haven’t done much to facilitate underage bands and their audience in the past. At a Miss Black America/ The Dawn Parade/ Stoned Death Games gig there they managed to throw out not only 75% of the audience but Stoned Death Games, and members from MBA and TDP for not having ID. Eventually the bands were let back in but it seems ludicrous that if you are going to put on a gig that the bouncers throw out the bands playing it. But then bouncers are well known for having brains of concrete.
The solution, for both venues and gig goers, would be ID. Bugbear promotions: “In my opinion landlords should follow the example of licensees in the states in the early 80's whereby underage punters (in the states this is 21 years of age) were marked with a black cross in permanent marker pen on the back of their hand, hence they couldnt buy alcohol at the bar. This was especially common in D.C where the audience at hardcore punk shows by bands like Minor Threat could be as young as 13”.
Fanny Strudel on the advantages of ID: “That way the venue can cheat themselves into believing they are only serving people of the correct age, and those amongst us who are underage just get someone with ID to buy drinks for us.”
The alternative solution comes from Seymour Glass. A good solution for everybody would be ”If everyone over the age of 25 was exterminated”